Johnny Just Came
Curated by Azu Nwagbogu
8TH JUNE — 22ND JULY
GAZELLI ART HOUSE
39 DOVER STREET, LONDON W1S 4NN
Johnny Just Come curated by Azu Nwagbogu
"They are like a demented child has tried to make a Giacometti." — Anthony Haden-Guest on the Currentsee series exhibited at Spring Break 2018.
Azu Nwagbogu - curator for Spring/Break 2018 New York
Having invited James Ostrer to the Lagos Nigeria in 2016 it became immediately obvious once he arrived how scared and frightened he was as he called from Lagos airport appealing that, “if someone didn’t come and pick me up that I have already met I will be on the next plane back to the united kingdom”.
Muhammad the driver was running late and wasn’t there holding a sign with his name on. James was fearful to the core and exuding the same defence mechanism as a musical Diva whose previous demands hadn’t been met.
James had arrived as a stranger in a town where he had repeatedly been informed not to take a random taxi from the airport. The reason being because every white person is a potential walking hostage that should only travel under armed guard.
It was only a few hours after his arrival that James was fully embedded within the dynamism of Lagos and its inhabitants and relaxed into what he describes as “the most welcoming city I have ever visited”.
He started as a stranger that had come to a place on the United Kingdom’s list of where not travel. A town that “even the flight attendant on the plane over had suggested to only stay-in your hotel complex at all costs”.
Did he land out getting a taxi? The answer is yes. Was he ok? The answer is Yes. Did James come back to the UK ten days later the same person? The answer is No.
This installation, “Johnny Just Come” is a compendium of artworks triggered by the journey of this white West London based artist that arrived for the first time in the continent of Africa in 2016.
What he didn’t know before arriving was this is a dying and bygone stereotype of Lagos, a Lagos that has been viewed through a skewed lens of post colonialism that instils a fear of Africa and Africans. A fear that has perpetuated to justify control and intentional advantage taking while keeping the generational self worth of Africans down.
What James has learnt since about himself is that he too could quickly become the very thing he considered the root problem within this issue. He became greed with diminished ethical standards and this is where the fable of this installation starts.
Within a couple of days having discovered this town freely and without fear James was walking along the vast stretch of sand know as lighthouse beach. He found a single child’s flip-flop washed up on the shore, then another, then realised there were hundreds.
He describes the flip-flop collection process,“as having started honestly and inclusively with high ethical standards but quickly escalated within 12 hours into a multi layered commodities company with far weaker values prioritising growth over all else. The perfect microcosm mirroring the global market at large. It's like over night I changed from being a left leaning empathetic proprietor of a fair trade venture into a CEO in Switzerland in denial about how things had changed but I just wanted my top line. I had become a rabidly hungry commodities trader set on maximising my potential stock with a diminishing regard for my own ethical standards”.
The backbone of this multifaceted installation is this vast synthetic reptilian skin made from all these discovered flip-flops. Their re-imagined display perfectly annotates a multitude of emotions held around economic disparity, commodity, and immigration both economic and environmental while being underscored by an overarching experience of human waste suffocating the planet.
Accompanying this vast array of emotive footwear is a subsequent and formidable body of work called “Currentsee” that Ostrer made in recognition of his micro-experience of having been a timid “Johnny Just Came” that quickly turned into a pseudo colonialist chieftain.
With particular consideration of recent abolitions of arts funding in the USA by Trump’s administration it is more important than ever for those that can, to support and produce work that questions the greed of the absolute global minority and through a personal reflection of his own white privilege I believe this is a very important body of work.
Ostrer states, “I see the Currentsee artworks as futurology portraits depicting why more than ever its evident that there needs to be a wider influence of the feminine over the more dominant and negative masculine character traits within humanity at large.”